The Loss of a Pet
Helping Your Family Cope When a PET Dies

A Pet is a Family Member Too
A pet is a member of the family. The term “man’s best friend” brings to mind unconditional love, constant companionship and acceptance. And Why Shouldn’t it? Your pet can take you for a walk, listen when you need someone to talk to or even guard your house. A pet can also lower your blood pressure, change your heart rate or alleviate feelings of chronic loneliness. With this capacity to love your pet, comes the necessity to grieve when that “best friend” dies. The death of a pet is, without a doubt, a traumatic experience.

A Pet’s Death is Traumatic
No, it’s not “just a dog” or just a cat”. The animal is a family member. With the death of a pet the family experiences a very great loss. A difficult problem, however, is that society often denies you the need to grieve for your pet. You may even be chastised for openly and honestly expressing your feelings. As a result, you may bury, hide or even try to ignore your grief. This is not good, grief should be expressed. Although denied understanding and support, your family needs to grieve the death of your pet. Grieving means to express your feelings, no matter how painful, outside of yourselves.

Clichés Don’t Help You Heal
Your family will probably be greeted with many clichés when your pet dies. Clichés are trite comments intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, “It was just a dog,” or “You can always get another one.” Or “Be glad you don’t have to take care of him anymore” are not constructive. Instead they hurt and make your family’s journey through grief more difficult.
Memories are Very Helpful
Memories are one of the best legacies after the death of a pet. Talk about and embrace these memories. Your pet entertained, comforted, frustrated and always loved you. Remember those times. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If they bring sadness, cry. Remember, though, memories made in love can never be taken away.

Your Emotions Will Be Very Mixed
When your pet dies, you will probably experience a variety of emotions: confusion, disorganization, sadness, explosive emotions or guilt. Don’t repress these feelings and ignore anyone who tells you that you should. Don’t over-analyze your response. Just allow your feelings to find expression. As strange as some of these feelings may seem, they are normal and healthy. Each Family member probably had a unique relationship with the pet. Allow for different emotional responses within the family, and be careful to respect each person’s need to grieve in his or her own way.

Should You Choose Euthanasia?
When you love your pet, no question is more difficult than whether or not to euthanize. Yet this difficult choice is often the right one, particularly if your pet is in agonizing pain or the quality of life has deteriorated. Talk to your veterinarian about euthanasia. Fortunately, humane procedures can end needless suffering for both you and your pet. The intravenous drug used for euthanasia does not cause pain. After visiting with your vet, make your decision based on your own good judgment. If you have always treated your pet with gentleness and love, you will make a wise choice based upon reality. Some owners want to be present when their pets are euthanized. Some do not. Do what you feel is right for you and the family. Whichever choice you make, you may still want to spend some special time saying “good-bye” to your pet.

Rituals Can Be Helpful
Allowing and encouraging your family to have a funeral for the pet can be helpful. It provides a time to acknowledge the loss, share memories of the pet and create a focus for the family to openly express emotions. While some friends or even family members may think having a funeral for your pet is foolish, don’t let them take this special time away. Design a ritual that best meets your needs as you gather to pay tribute to your pet who was and always ill be loved.

Children Need to be Involved
The death of a pet is often the first opportunity parents have to help children during times of grief. Unfortunately, parents often don’t want to talk about the death assuming that by doing so the children will be spared some of the pain and sadness. Children, however, are entitled to grieve for their pets. Any child old enough to love is old enough to grieve. Many children love their pets with all their hearts. To them their pet is their “best friend”. They need to grieve

Premature Replacement Can Cause Problems
The temptation after the death of a pet may be to run out and get another one right away. In fact, you are often encouraged by family and friends. Although it may sound like a good idea, you should be careful about premature replacement. You need some time to grieve and to heal when your pet dies. A new pet demands your energy and attention which at some point you may be ready and willing to give. Right now, however, you should first attend to your grief. Be especially careful about premature replacement of pets with children. It sends a message to a child that says when something is lost all that you have to do is buy another one. In reality, that is often not the case. It also devalues the significance of the pet that just died. While there is no specific timetable for when to get a new pet, when in doubt - wait. Allow an additional healing to occur. When the family is ready for a new pet, involve the children in the discussion and selection. You will know when it is time for another pet. Follow your instincts.